A visit to Wakefield

In search of the lost history of the objects mentioned in my previous post, I contacted David Evans at the Wakefield Museum to have a look at the Educational Resource Service accession register. I’m always impressed by the helpfulness of museum professionals in accommodating me and my research, especially since on this visit I had my junior research associate (aged 6 months) along with me.

The Wakefield store is a treasure trove of objects not currently on display in the Museum, including the records of the Educational Resource Service. David also kindly showed me a few ancient Cypriot objects from the ERS which are now in the Wakefield collection, including a medieval jar with beautiful lustrous blue-green glaze, and a lentoid flask with strap handle and just-visible white painted bands of decoration.

Medieval Cypriot jar © Wakefield Museums

Medieval Cypriot jar
© Wakefield Museums

Cypriot lentoid flask © Wakefield Museums

Cypriot lentoid flask
© Wakefield Museums

The accession register turned out to cover a large span of the history of the collection, from 1963 to 1988, and helped to pinpoint the change of title from the School Museum Service to the Educational Resource Service in January 1986. There was also a card index file, which included additional information on some of the items.

Making matches between the objects I’ve found so far, the accession register entries, and the rather opaque (to me) card index system was not straightforward, but I have been able to glean some additional information about the Cypriot objects which formed part of the ERS collection. As Mr Woodward, former Senior Advisor to the ERS, had recalled, some came from the British Museum, presumably duplicates which were passed on without having been accessioned. The BM is recorded as the source of a tempting list of Cypriot artefacts, including a chariot model, but sadly none of them readily identifiable among the objects I’ve seen to date.

Others were purchased from the Folio Society’s ‘Collectors’ Corner’, and later from Charles Ede Ltd., and more from D. Reaney, a dealer in antiquities in Long Eaton in the 1960s. From these records we learn that the lentoid flask was one of three, costing either £14 or £22, and that the blue-green glazed jar was dated to C13th – C14th AD. Unfortunately, there is little solid information linking the extant objects to their dealers, and still less about where they might have originated from.

Nevertheless, I’m now following up these leads to see if the trails can be followed any further back. It’s fascinating to think of the varied lives these objects have led, and what they have meant to their different owners and users along the way.

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New discoveries from the Educational Resource Service

Two years ago I mentioned here that I had come across an old catalogue for the Educational Resource Service, which included some ancient Cypriot objects. Very excitingly, a few of these have now come to light at the University, having been long overlooked in storage. They include some Greek pieces, and three which are Cypriot – a stemmed bowl, an amphora, and this fantastic horse and rider.

Horse and rider figurine © University of Leeds

Horse and rider figurine
© University of Leeds

To me, this represents some of the best qualities of ancient Cypriot art. The modelling is very impressionistic, even crude, but it has an indefinable energy and vigour. I love the way the horse is leaning backwards, as though pulling up suddenly from a headlong charge.

Horse and rider figurine © University of Leeds

Horse and rider figurine
© University of Leeds

The rider’s pose, with right hand raised, is fairly unusual; it’s probably meant to represent some kind of martial gesture, and he may once have held a spear made of a different material. The horse’s harness and tack are elaborate, and include a fringed breastplate which may represent a ‘fly apron’, attested in images of horses in warfare from the Near East (Crouwel J. and Tatton-Brown V., ‘Ridden horses in Iron Age Cyprus’, RDAC 1988).

There are numerous examples of ancient Cypriot horse and rider figurines, some from tombs but many known to be from sanctuaries, where they would have been votive offerings. Unfortunately contextual information, including findspot, is largely lacking for these ERS objects at the moment, though I have hopes of uncovering a little more.

The objects’ recent history, as art objects for temporary loan to schools, is made evident by their presentation – mounted on plinths (sadly, probably glued down) and wired into Perspex boxes, contained within custom-fitted wooden cases labelled with ERS codes and descriptions.

Case for ERS objects

Case for ERS objects

The Cypriot objects formed part of a wider collection on Ancient Greece, also incorporating modern replicas and ‘backdrop’ photographs on boards – see the sample layout from the ERS catalogue below, with the horse and rider on the left. I wonder whether their distinctively Cypriot heritage was understood by the schools that borrowed them and the pupils that viewed them?

Illustration from ERS catalogue

Illustration from ERS catalogue

The Educational Resource Service began as the West Riding School Museum Service in the 1940s, which was led by Sir Alec Clegg, Director of Education, and reached its full potential steered by Eric Woodward as Senior Advisor between 1956 and 1985. You can read more about its history on Natalie Bradbury’s ‘Pictures for Schools’ blog here. It must have been a wonderful resource for local schools, a treasure trove of inspiring objects arriving regularly in their custom-made travelling cases. Eric Woodward was kind enough to discuss the Cypriot objects with me, and recalls that they may have been British Museum duplicates, or acquired at auction. It’s quite possible that pieces such as this could have been picked up at a relatively low price. The figurine and amphora have both been broken and repaired; this damage may have been part of their history in schools, or may have made them more affordable to buy for the collection.

Much of the information about their earlier history is probably lost now, but I have a few leads to follow up. Wakefield Museum have the original ERS accession register in their archives, which I shall consult. They also have a couple of further Cypriot pieces from the collection (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Bichrome krater or the jug to the rear of the illustration below).

Illustration from ERS catalogue

Illustration from ERS catalogue

What comes next for these ERS objects at Leeds is not yet clear. Perhaps a life outside the Perspex, and on display?

More ancient Cypriot art in Leeds?

Trawling through some files in the Leeds University Library Special Collections yesterday, I was intrigued to come across the 1994-95 catalogue for the Educational Resource Service. This detailed a huge variety of art objects for schools to borrow, including some that looked distinctly Cypriot.

As far as I can make out, ownership of the collection seems to have passed back and forth between Wakefield District Council and Bretton Hall College, which has now closed. So where did the Cypriot pottery end up? It could have been assimilated into the University’s collection (which I haven’t managed to pin down yet), or possibly into the Museum or School Loans Service (though the objects above don’t look very familiar). Another huge question is: how did the artefacts get into the collection in the first place? Bretton Hall has a long and distinguished history; is it possible they were collected by a former owner? Hopefully there’ll be more information to follow…